Guilt is a powerful psychological force. It is one of the most effective ways to manipulate other people. Many people will do almost anything to avoid feelings of shame. Sometimes we all have to deal with people who, consciously or unconsciously, try to put their own guilt onto us. They are externalizing their guilt. You need to know how to protect yourself from this emotional manipulation.
Understanding How Eternalizing Guilt Looks
People experience guilt in many different ways. The healthy way to deal with guilt is to let go of it. This involves stopping actions that you believe are wrong, or acknowledging mistakes and trying to do better in the future. When people hold onto their guilt they often become bitter and angry. Instead of doing the work of resolving their guilt, they will externalize or project their guilt onto others.
If someone is angry with you because of your success or if they blame you for their failures, they are externalizing their guilt at your expense. They may even try and convince you to feel guilty about their mistakes by making unreasonable demands on your time and setting unrealistic expectations around your relationship.
The best way to negate these toxic actions is to eliminate people from your life that try and manipulate you with their guilt. You can either announce you are cutting the cord or you can simply ghost away. You stop returning phone calls and social media messages. You make less time for these types of people in your life and seek out new friends.
But, sometimes you cannot cut people out of your life. You may need tactics to deal with people you have to see regularly, such as a spouse or close family member, who loves to try and push their guilt onto you.
One way to react to someone who is angry with you for their own failings to acknowledge their emotions without accepting responsibility. You can say things like:
- I can see that you are angry about the way things turned out
- I am sorry that you were not able to get that done
- I hope that things go better for you next time
Statements like these show that you are listening, they remind the other person that they are responsible for their own emotions, and they keep you from receiving the guilt the other person is trying to give you.
You do not have to attend every argument that you are invited to. The better you become at being calm and detached from other people’s problems the easier it will be to negate other people’s attempts to externalize their guilt to you.
You Are Not Responsible for Anyone Else’s Happiness
When the people we love most are hurting, is natural to feel compassion and sometimes even guilt. Compassion is an important part of being human. However, you can be compassionate without being an emotional punching bag. You are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. You cannot make anyone else feel happy. That is a choice they will have to make for themselves.
The best you can do is work on mastering your emotions. Do not accept the guilt so many people are anxious to push off onto you. You are not doing them any favors and you are sabotaging your own chances at success. Instead be accountable for your own actions. Encourage your loved ones, but don’t take their guilt.
Accepting guilt for things you did not do is not compassion. If you want what is best for your friends and family you will have to let them deal with their guilt on their own.